On the Road

Chapter 29

December 8, 2011

Miss Cecelia Davenport, ever helpful, pointed out that last week’s column incorrectly labeled the weather forecast as being for the week of November 27 to December 3, when it should have been denoted as December 4 to 10. The forecast actually was for December 4 to 10, just located in the wrong time period. Here’s the forecast for the coming week, which is, as far as climatologists and calenderologists are concerned, correct.

Forecast for December 11 to 17: The coming week will be pretty average for this time of year, with highs in the middle 40s and lows in the upper 20s to lower 30s. There is a chance for rain mid week. There will be a full moon Sunday night so don’t let Uncle Earl or the pets go wandering around town by themselves.

The Town Council met on Tuesday night and had a spirited discussion about renaming Fremont Road. An ordinance will be introduced at the January meeting at which time additional public comment will be heard.

Sally Oswald reports that the new design guidelines for downtown will go into effect on January 1.

The Excelsior Book Club held it’s monthly meeting on Monday instead of Wednesday because several of the members had not finished reading November’s book, “Beekeeping for Beginners.” With Christmas and New Years coming up, the members decided not to start a new book this month, but chose “The Paris Wife” for January.

The elementary school Holiday Pageant is set for next Thursday evening, beginning at 6:30. Parents are reminded to bring cookies for the reception afterwards.

Inez Harris reports that the Prairie View Extension Club will be accepting nominations of high school seniors from Walnut Shade for the Harris Scholarship, which pays for the first year of college at any Kansas school.

Ilene Wick hosted Ruth Stanford, Anna Brady, and Lori Mendenhall for Mahjong on Tuesday. They enjoyed tea sandwiches and unspecified afternoon “pick-me-ups” according to Anna Brady.

The Willing Workers 4-H Club has adopted a family from Tillman for Christmas and will deliver gifts and food on Christmas eve. They also wrote cards for soldiers in Afghanistan.
Bill Heath reported that a small leak was found in his “water retention structure.” He noticed that it wasn’t filling very quickly and discovered the breech last week. Ron Worth talked to the contractor who built the structure and they are trying to figure out how the leak occurred and how to fix it.

The annual Christmas party at the VFW hall was held Monday night. White elephants were exchanged and Elaine Brown reports that more than a few pink elephants were sighted as well.

Not to be outdone, the American Legion held it’s Christmas party on Tuesday night and Santa Claus was the only mythical figure to appear. Of course, Brad Franklin, who plays Santa every year is not, to the best of our knowledge, mythical, though some of his poker friends say is he legendary in his ability to draw to an inside straight.

For those of us who have lived in northeast Kansas for a while, we know about snow storms that create “inside, straight” days of watching the flakes pile up, but for now, the weather looks pretty good, so…

Until next week, I’m getting out and about as..
Your Faithful Correspondent

Though I shouldn’t be by now, I’m always surprised at how quickly seemingly mundane issues in this town can become the basis for deep philosophical debates. Monday night was an example of that. The town council had before it the proposal, put forth by Billy Thornton, that Fremont Road should be renamed Fremont Street. Fremont Road was named in the 1850’s when it was the major “thoroughfare” between Walnut Shade and the county seat, Fremont. In the early 1900s, it became part of a road that was conceived to extend from Winnipeg to Mexico City. A Kansas City attorney wanted what was to become U.S. 75 to be designated as the “King of Trails,” and an association of communities along its route was formed. Hotels and garages were inspected by the members and if those enterprises passed muster, they were listed in the official “King of Trails” guidebook. “Trails” was an apt designation, because in 1918 there were few roads that were little more than ruts (in northeastern Kansas or anywhere else for that matter), choked with dust in the summer and nearly impassable with mud, snow and ice in the winter.

In 1916, the national “Federal Aid (Good) Roads Act” was passed by Congress with the goal of turning the miles and miles of oxen trails in the country into legitimate roads and highways.

(Interesting note for all you rock and roll fans: that same year the Buffalo Steam Roller Company and the Kelly-Springfield Company merged to form the Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company, not only making “high-speed” travel coast to coast possible because of the miles and miles of asphalt roads eventually built with its equipment, but also lending its name to one of the preeminent bands of the ‘60s, Buffalo Springfield).


By 1926, U.S. Highway 75 had been designated and upgrades to the “Trail” began. When plans for the road were presented in Topeka, 75 was shown to by-pass Walnut Shade just to the west of town. Normally, a “major highway” like that would have run through a community like Walnut Shade, but the state engineers were a bit daunted by the prospect of routing traffic around the town square, which was, and is, in truth not a square at all, but a circle. It’s funny how traffic circles are all the rage in Topeka and Kansas City and Manhattan these days, but in 1926, people in the highway department were afraid that Highway 75 would turn into a Midwestern version of Charing Cross at Trafalgar Square in London or Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris, with us country people going round and round without being able to figure out how to get out of an endless loop.

So Fremont Road ceased connecting Topeka and the county seat through Walnut Shade in any significant way, but it retained its name, mostly out of inertia. Until Billy thought better of it.

“We all know that Fremont Road hasn’t gone to Fremont since the golf course was built,” Billy told the council. “It ends right at the twelfth fairway.”

Fremont Road, until 1932 ran through farmland north of town and then through the Miller County Fairgrounds. When Ralph Anderson sold 160 acres just south of the Fairgrounds to the Miller County Golf Association in 1930, part of the deal involved vacating the section of Fremont Road that ran through his property. At the time, it seemed like a good arrangement because Ralph hadn’t been able to pay taxes on his farm for five years and the Association not only agreed to pay the back taxes but everyone knew that it would be good for the taxes in the future. When Highway 75 was built, Fremont Road lost most of its traffic and no one really objected to its being decommission through the golf course, saving taxpayers’ money on maintenance.

At this point in the proceedings, Billy introduced, without intending to, the philosophical portion of the discussion (to anyone’s knowledge, Billy is not a student of philosophy, so his creating this circumstance was absolutely unintentional).

“My daddy used to say that roads take you out of town and streets just get you where you want to go in town.”

Now this almost made sense, and certainly was something that Billy’s daddy might have said, though we’ve all heard lots of things that Billy’s daddy “used to say,” phrases that seemed to come right out of Poor Richard’s Almanack or Caper’s Weekly. Billy’s daddy’s sayings, apparently, had been in circulation for many, many years before he was born.

“You know, I think Billy might be on to something,” Tom Miller said. “Fremont Road doesn’t really go anyplace any more, so maybe we should call it Fremont Street.”

“Tom, I’m thinking about this distinction between roads and streets and I’m not sure I’m buying it right now, but if we rename Fremont Road, we’ll have to replace twelve street signs and that will probably take a good part of the rest of the street department’s budget for this year. Those sign are costing nearly $100 apiece now.”


Sandy Cramer was the town council member that supervised the street department, so she had a good handle on prices. She was also the most financially cautious member of the council, having headed off a number of expenses that the other member wanted to authorize, like the proposal to add a room onto City Hall that could be used for wedding receptions and other community events, even though all of the churches had excellent, but underused, facilities; the elementary school auditorium could handle up to three hundred people; and, the council had previously allocated funds for the renovation of the Opera House specifically for that purpose. The City Hall expansion was the brain-child of a former council member, no longer a resident, who intended to open a catering business that would focus on events there. Fortunately, he couldn’t get a loan to do so without potential contracts, none of which materialized after people realized what he was up to, so the City Hall expansion died a quiet death and he left town shortly thereafter. We’ve heard he runs either a Subway in Kansas City or a 7-11 in Des Moines.

“I understand the expense,” Les Derby chimed in, “but I think we should be consistent with our street department policies. It seems to me that perhaps we’ve been operating without a clear guide for identifying important parts of our community. I wonder how many people have been confused over the years driving up Fremont Road and finding they can’t get to Fremont on it?”

“You mean besides Billy Thornton?” That was Ralph Thompson, Billy’s table-mate most mornings at Shirley’s. Ralph and Billy delighted in needling each other any chance they got.

After a short pause for laughter, Mayor Combs resumed the discussion.

“I think we’ve identified two issues here: one, are we being consistent with our street naming policies; and, two, should we spend the money to change the street signs if we decide we need to change them to be consistent. You know, I also think Billy might be on to something; when you see the word ‘road’ you think about going somewhere else, not staying in town. Willie Nelson, Jack Kerouac and all that.”

“Mr. Mayor, there is one other issue. If we rename Fremont Road inside the town limits, there’s still a two mile stretch of it that’s in the county. Are we suggesting that they also change the name?” Sandy Cramer raised a point that hadn’t occurred to Billy Thornton when he started thinking about this, but he had an answer for it.

“In spite of what Ralph thinks, I’ve been up Fremont Road in the last month and I haven’t seen any signs beside the ones in town. I don’t think the county will have to do much if we change the name here. And we all know they don’t do much unless they have to.”

Another short pause for knowing laughter.

“Mr. Mayor,” Flossie Wentworth said, “I move that we direct the town clerk to prepare an ordinance to change the name of the portion of Fremont Road inside the town limits to Fremont Street and submit it for first reading at the January meeting.”

“Flossie has moved that we get an ordinance prepared to rename Fremont Road. Is there a second?”

“Second,” Tom Miller said.

“Any discussion?”

“I suppose if we put off changing the signs until next summer, we can include that expense in next year’s budget,” Sandy Cramer suggested. “Billy, can you wait that long?”

“Well, as far as I know, I don’t need to go to Fremont again for anything soon, so I guess that will be OK.”

So with that, the vote to direct the town clerk to prepare the ordinance passed 4 to 1, with Tom Miller, who in fact seconded the motion, voting against, not because he was against the idea; he just didn’t like to see unanimous votes for anything that came before the council. He said it made it seem like they were just rubber-stamping everything. Tom has been on the council since 1998 and there has not been one unanimous vote in all that time; he’s made sure of that.

Someone (I think it was either Aeschylus or Mel Brooks) said that there are only two themes in literature: someone leaves town or someone comes to town. Everything that can happen in a community happens as a result of one of those two events. I wonder if we have limited our potential events by turning a road into a street? Will people who might have ventured outside Walnut Shade on Fremont Road (even though Billy contends it doesn’t go anywhere) rethink their decision and just stay home? Will people who might have discovered Fremont Road somehow (without the benefit of a road sign) be reluctant to venture into Walnut Shade because it’s just a street now? There are people in town who think we have enough “events” as it is and are happy to just let things be. On the other hand, there are those folks who are always saying “What this town needs is some new blood.” I guess when the signs get changed, we’ll find out what happens and who’s happiest about what happens then. Besides Billy Thornton, of course.

Tuesday was such a rainy, blustery day that I couldn’t persuade Jerry to venture outside more than once. He hates getting his paws wet and I can’t say that I really blame him. Wet feet are no fun, whether you have two or four. Having taken care of most of the tasks around the house that were either critical or obvious, I decided to spend the afternoon looking through some of the “Correspondent” files that Stan Hawkins passed on to me after Arlene White… well, passed on.

The files consisted of carefully clipped and preserved columns from not only Arlene’s years as the correspondent, but extended back to just before World War I when the first events in Walnut Shade began to be recorded on a weekly basis and made known to the wider, unsuspecting public in Miller County. There are some gems of reporting that deserve to be shared once again and here’s the first one (names have been changed to protect the innocent or guilty, but I imagine everyone will recognize the culprits). I’ll include more in the future as space and decorum allow.

“March 24, 1921 — It seems J. M. Morgan, who has been on the road to insanity for some time, reached his destination on Saturday night when he tried to stab Mrs. Morgan with his dinner knife while the family was eating supper. Mrs. Morgan reports that Mr. Morgan had been refusing to eat since breakfast on Wednesday, saying that he was afraid the children would starve if he ate anything. Sheriff Gains and Deputy Snell accompanied Mr. Morgan to Topeka State Hospital that evening. Mr. Morgan has been well thought of in the community and has always tried to make an honest living for his wife and three children, ages 4 to 7. We trust he will return to them soon with a clear mind and grateful heart.”

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
This entry was posted in Dada, Natural world, Observations, Serendipity, Small Town Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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